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Classic Video: Why Control Board Swaps Don’t Work on Most Hard Drives

Hard drives manufactured in recent years store more data per square inch of platter area than ever before. This increase in data density each device is more complex and sophisticated than their predecessors.

To function at these high levels, hard drives are individually calibrated in the factory after assembly. The unique calibration parameters are stored on the hard drive, on the platter, on the control board, or both.

This customization means that the old trick of swapping one control board with another seemingly identical control board in an attempt to read a dead drive no longer works due to the fact that the calibration parameters are specific to each individual hard drive. The video above has more explanation, and a demonstration of how a control board swap fails between two drives, even though they’re from the same manufacturer and of the same model.

Do-it-yourself data recovery techniques like these always seem like a good idea at the time, but they can do more harm than good. If the data is valuable to you, leave data recovery to the experts.

10 Comments

  1. […] set them into a donor hard drive. The donor drive must be as close of a match as possible. Due to the drive-unique calibrations stored on the control board’s ROM chip, the original control board must also be swapped over to the original drive. Doing this is actually […]

  2. […] The only way to get a hard drive to quit smoking is to make it go cold turkey—and replace its malfunctioning PCB. PCB replacement is an oft-misunderstood hard drive repair operation, as evidenced by the number of people we see who try it on their own and don’t understand why it doesn’t work. Just removing a healthy PCB from one Seagate Barracuda drive and slapping it onto the other drive wo…. […]

  3. […] A shorted printed control board, or PCB, is usually a fairly easily-solvable conundrum for an experienced engineer… at least, when you’re dealing with a traditional spinning-disk hard drive. This is because the PCB is easily accessible and removable from the rest of the drive. An experienced engineer can successfully replace a shorted control board, given the proper tools and knowhow. […]

  4. […] the PCB with a compatible donor board. But there was more to this operation than just that—swapping a circuit board is harder than it sounds. Nowadays, hard drives store drive-unique calibrations on their PCB’s ROM chip. The data on the […]

  5. […] to frown on most forms of DIY hard drive data recovery. DIY data recovery myths, such as simply swapping control boards or tapping misbehaving drives with hammers, tend to be misguided and outdated at best and […]

  6. […] “non-invasive” makes the recovery process sound more easy than it is. Replacing a PCB takes a lot more work than simply swapping the boards from two identical models of hard drives. One of the chips on the PCB is a ROM chip, stuffed with drive-unique factory calibrations. Every […]

  7. […] It takes skill to properly replace the ROM chip containing all of the hard drive’s unique calibration data. Many computer repair technicians who attempt PCB replacement still forget this step, even though simple board swaps haven’t worked for many years now. […]

  8. […] simply, hard drive control board swaps don’t work anymore. Or, at least, not without putting extra work into it. When hard disk drives were simpler, the […]

  9. […] drive-unique calibrations that the hard drive cannot run without first consulting. This chip is the reason why most modern hard drives cannot be fixed by simply performing a board swap and not doing any additional […]

  10. […] control board on a failed hard drive isn’t the most difficult data recovery job in the world, but it’s far from simple. Control boards of modern hard drives contain drive-unique calibrations. The ROM chip on the […]

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